Sweetener and thank u, next: How America’s Biggest Pop Star Heals on Record

Artwork by Elizabeth Vogt

Artwork by Elizabeth Vogt

By Meredith Fuentes

In the span of six months, Ariana Grande released two albums that followed her journey from tragedy and heartbreak to healing. Sweetener and thank u, next highlight 25-year-old Grande’s growth as a musician from her days as a teen star.

On May 22, 2017, a suicide bomber killed 22 people at one of Grande’s concerts in Manchester, United Kingdom. The attack shook the country and fans, and had a huge impact on Grande herself. The singer has discussed her struggles with PTSD and anxiety after the attack. Sweetener is the product of Grande’s struggle with the aftermath of the horrific event. The album is also a tribute to the love she found in her then boyfriend, now ex-fiance, Pete Davidson. In many ways Sweetener is about how love is healing.

Ariana Grande opens up for the first time about her anxiety in the track “Breathin”. Grande stated at the time that this was her most open and vulnerable album, and the emotional lyrics "Breathin" and Grande's impassioned delivery of them testify to this fact. Lead single “No tears left to cry” is also a clear reference to the Manchester bombing and demonstrates the healing that Grande has done since the attack. With lyrics like “Right now, I'm in a state of mind/I wanna be in like all the time/Ain't got no tears left to cry” Grande reveals how she has healed and is ready to move on from the tragedy. As the first single released off the album, it was a signal to fans that Grande was prepared to begin a new chapter in her life, filled with color, happiness, and love. A good number of songs on the album are about love. Tracks like “R.E.M.”, “sweetener”, and of course “pete davidson” are a nod to the light brought into her life by her then-boyfriend. Grande and Davidson began dating in May of 2018 and quickly got engaged. The couple seemed completely smitten, for a time, which brings us to the next chapter of Grande’s healing.

On September 7, 2018, Mac Miller, Ariana Grande’s ex-boyfriend, was found dead due to an accidental overdose. Miller’s addiction had been a huge strain on Grande and their relationship and was one of the reasons for their breakup. Many Mac Miller fans placed the blame on Ariana Grande for breaking up with Miller due to his addiction and not supporting him in his recovery. Grande fired back claiming that she was incredibly supportive of the rapper but his addiction was unhealthy for their relationship and her own mental health. This blame made it even harder for Grande to cope with the death of Miller, since the two had a serious relationship and she still cared deeply for him as a friend. About a month after the death of Miller it was noticed that Pete Davidson had covered one of his tattoos that was a tribute to Grande and the couple officially broke off their engagement on October 14. It was this heartbreak and tragedy that led to the writing and release of thank u, next and continued Grande’s use of music for healing.

While the general tone of thank u, next is upbeat, the lyrics reveal a deeper undercurrent of hurt and healing. Grande has spoken openly about her journey in interviews and on late night talk shows. Her song “fake smile” addresses her unwillingness to hide how she is truly feeling. Grande writes, “It's gettin' hard for them to shock me/But every now and then, it’s shocking, don't blame me.” These lyrics are a direct reference to Mac Miller and how his fans, as well as the media, have put a lot of the blame on Grande for his death. On Grande’s most vulnerable song on the album, “ghostin,” she discusses the pain experienced by both herself and Davidson after the tragic death of Mac Miller. She sings “I know that it/Breaks your heart when I cry again/Over him, mmh,” and “Though I wish he were here instead/Don't want that living in your head.” These lyrics are some of her most vulnerable on the entire album. When asked if she would be performing this song live Grande grande responded on Twitter:

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Ariana Grande’s talent is undeniable, both as a songwriter and a performer, but her ability to overcome hardship is also something that should be admired. Her experiences in the past few years led to the creation of two impeccable albums that have each topped the charts. Grande also received the Billboard award for Woman of the Year in 2018 and released another single, “MONOPOLY” on April 1. Sweetener and thank u, next are currently being toured by the signer and she will be performing at several major music festivals this summer. Needless to say, Ariana Grande seems to be unstoppable.